The Turner Center for Church Leadership

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The Turner Center for Church Leadership supports the Bishop of the Nashville Episcopal Area in equipping and connecting clergy and lay leadership for the transformation of the church. The Turner Center provides training and resources in clergy leadership development as well as consultation to pastors and churches facing challenging circumstances.

Advisory Board

The Turner Center’s Advisory Board meets several times a year to review the progress on leadership initiatives and provide guidance on what kinds of programs and efforts would be most helpful to the Bishop and the cabinets of the two conferences. The Advisory Board is co-chaired by Bishop Bill McAlilly and Rev. Tom Laney and includes the chairpersons of the Boards of Ordained Ministry in the Memphis and the Tennessee Conference, Rev. Johnny Jeffords and Rev. Bryan Brooks. Other members include Rev. Tommy Ward, of the Office of Ministerial Concerns, Rev. John Collett, former assistant to the bishop and three key laypersons: Bethany Huffman of Millington, Tenn. and Lynn Taylor and Jim Bradford of Nashville.


The Turner Center was established in 2007 when the Turner Family Foundation gave a substantial grant to Vanderbilt Divinity School to promote more effective and creative clergy leadership in the United Methodist Church in the Nashville Episcopal Area. Conceived and designed by Dr. M. Douglas Meeks, professor of systematic theology and Dr. Jim Hudnut Buemler, the dean of the school, the Turner Center offered a fresh approach to cultivating faithful leadership in the midst of major cultural shifts.

Over half of the grant was used to start the innovative Turner Leadership Scholars program, which provided full tuition grants to a select group of United Methodist M. Div. students who were committed to serving in the local church. The Turner Scholars also were placed as leadership interns in local churches in and around Nashville where they received close supervision and mentoring for all three years of their academic work.

The remainder of the grant was used to offer special workshops and programs for pastors already serving in local churches. Over the course of eight years these programs addressed issues such as preaching excellence, leadership development in the church, pastoring small churches effectively, cultivating emerging leaders and exploring the missional church.

When the grant ended in 2015, the Turner Family Foundation redirected the grant to the Bishop’s Office of the Nashville Episcopal Area and began to focus primarily on working with current pastors and their lay leaders.


Leadership Development Groups  The Turner Center sponsors clergy Leadership Development groups in both the Memphis and the Tennessee Conferences.  Led by Rev. Tom Laney, these small groups meet monthly for most of the day to discuss key leadership issues and their relevance to their church life.  Participants read a book every other month to learn new concepts and then bring case studies from their own experience to the following month’s session.  Over the course of 9 months, the group explores

  • Adaptive Leadership
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Vison/Mission clarification and
  • Missional preaching

Preaching Peer Groups   In partnership with the Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence in Dallas, TX, the Turner Center sponsors a preaching group in the Memphis and Tennessee Conference. The group is hosted by a convener who has received training in the PCPE format and confers regularly with a nationally known preaching expert.  The groups meet monthly for 12 months, sharing readings, conversations and sermons.

Leadership Workshops   Rev. Tom Laney has worked with numerous districts in both the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences to provide leadership training on topics such as “Leading Difficult Conversations,” “Navigating Conflict in the Church” and “Pathways to Renewal.”

Consultations   For eight years, Rev. Laney has also provided consultation to district superintendents, pastors and local churches regarding internal conflicts, staff dynamics, and vision/mission clarity. In the consulting capacity he has worked with over 50 churches in effort to help them function in a more healthy manner and be more effective in their mission and witness.

About Rev. Tom Laney

Rev. Laney assumed the position of Director of The Turner Center for Church Leadership in the summer of 2015.  The work of the Turner Center focuses on supporting the Nashville Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church in training and equipping clergy leadership in the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences.  In this capacity Rev. Laney has established Leadership Development Groups to help pastors in their first decade of ministry improve their capacity to guide their congregations faithfully and effectively.

During the prior six years, Rev. Laney was the Associate Director of the Turner Center when it was affiliated with Vanderbilt Divinity School.  His work included organizing leadership formation events for pastors and consulting with pastors and congregations to assist them in managing church conflict, staff development, vision/mission discernment and other leadership challenges.  In addition, Rev. Laney oversaw the non-academic work of the Turner Leadership Scholars who were enrolled in the Master of Divinity program at the divinity school with the intent of entering pastoral ministry upon graduation.

Before joining the Turner Center, Rev. Laney spent 23 years pastoring local churches in the North Georgia and Tennessee Conferences.  He has served in churches ranging from 120 members to 2,300 members and in rural, suburban and urban settings.   Most recently he was the Senior Pastor of West End UMC in Nashville (1999-2007).  Since leaving the local church, Rev. Laney has received facilitator training in the Healthy Congregations Initiative, the Spiritual Leadership Incorporated model of team building and has been a member of the Systems-Centered Training Institute.

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